After an inmate escaped from court in Sidney on Thursday and two similar escapes in Williston, courthouse security measures here are beefing up.
Two Williston inmates ran several blocks in their escapes over the last month. Matthew Powers, 21, ran from the Williston Municipal Court in mid-April, where he was facing Class B misdemeanor theft charges. Calum Kinstler, the 19-year-old facing a litany of theft and robbery charges, ran from Williams County District Court.
Both Powers and Kinstler wore shackles in court appearances after the incidents. Sheriff Scott Busching and Police Chief Jim Lokken said that will now be standard practice for suspects facing felony charges. Before, only suspects accused of violent offenses wore shackles in court.
Busching, whose office is responsible for security in the district courtrooms, said he met with judges after the incidents to formulate a new plan.
“It was the defense attorneys that get bent out of shape,” Busching said, with attorneys wanting their clients to remain shackle-free in the courtroom.
“We said, we’re going to try it my way now and the judges agreed,” he added.
The escape in Sidney, where the suspect was later recaptured, locked down area schools and placed some rural school districts in Williams County on high alert, Busching said, though no deputies were sent to the schools located near the Montana border.
Busching said he is also adding some covert security measures, such as leg braces. Additionally, officers will have more leeway to temporarily postpone court appearances in consultation with the judge if security could be an issue.
Typically, Busching said about two officers are stationed in a courtroom to provide security.
But Lokken and Busching said escape attempts were once more common at the old law enforcement center, where inmates would attempt to run during transport. One inmate escaped on a trip to the dentist.
For the municipal courts, Lokken said after a prior incident he added off-duty officers for security in court, which once had no security. Now, the officers will also shackle anyone accused of a felony.
“We don’t take any more chances,” he said.
Lokken and Busching said the increased measures went into effect over the last week or so.